Thursday, August 20, 2009

Julie and Julia

After having told my friends that I sat down to watch this movie on my computer, based on their reactions, I feel the need to perhaps explain and/or defend myself for viewing this movie. I'm very much a writer/director kind of person, as in whoever wrote or directed the film will tend to take precedence in my decision to see the movie. In this case both the writer and director of Julie and Julia is Nora Ephron. She is responsible for films that range from the dramatic (Silkwood) to the comedic (When Harry Met Sally) and is capable of telling very appealing stories about adults that audiences connect with the more they grow older. The second factor would be the concept. I heard that Meryl Streep would be doing a Julia Child biopic with Ephron and that it would be told parallel to the story of a modern-day woman who attempted to also cook Child's recipes. I had no idea if it would be a drama or a comedy but I was still into that initial outline. The third aspect would be the actors/actresses involved. Now I consider Meryl Streep to be some sort of alien because that is the only way to explain this almost other-worldly effect she has had on cinema. I predict that years from now there will be film analysts/historians and thespians that study her large body of work like it's some sort of holy grail (The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, A Cry In The Dark, The River Wild, Adaptation, The Hours, Lions For Lambs, Doubt, etc.). The fourth and last factor would be how the film was advertised. Unfortunately Julie and Julia seemed slightly more feminine than I initially gave it credit but after several shining reviews from respectable critics came in, I decided to sit down and see what I thought of the film. One can rarely ever go by advertising, take Inglorious Bastards (which looks mainstream but is supposed to be more art-house) and Where The Wild Things Are (which initially looked childish but I'd be a moron to doubt Spike Jonze's sensibilities) as recent examples of films with misdirecting advertising campaigns. Apologies for the brief aside, but I just wanted to clear that up.

Now when I was young, my grandmother always used to watch the cooking shows that were either on PBS or Food Network. I remember my mom taking me to my grandmother's house before she went off to work and my grandma would always be watching this overly tall French woman on PBS. She looked like a football player as she buttered everything up and she would often squawk or coo with excitement. This was Julia Child (as mentioned above, she is portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film), the woman who wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that consists of 524 popular recipes. From my memories of watching Child on PBS, Meryl Streep once again disappears into her role as a high-society sounding woman that really just wants to have fun. Streep captures that good-hearted, happy-go-lucky nature of Julia so well that by the end of the film, one realizes Child looked at her cookbook-writing as a way to share her knowledge (and to feed) the world. Julia Child, the character, has a full and complete character arc.

The same cannot be said for Julie Powell (Amy Adams). Julie is a cubicle worker who becomes so bored with her doll-drum life that she decides to start a blog that will follow her escapades of trying to complete Julia Child's 524 recipes in 365 days. Now this may be the first major film to be nearly centered on the experiencing of blogging and yet the premise of Julie waking up at night to check her replies... is not that convincing. Instead, I'd much rather see her remain obsessive about her quest to learn more about cooking. This is the second time Adams has played an apprentice of sorts to Streep (the first being 2008's Doubt) so Adams does a great job of being the protege but Julia's story is so much more exciting because we witness her discovery of cooking while Julie just attempts to copy what her "predecessor" accomplished. Julie is also highly single-minded about her quest, leading the character to be classified with the title of a "bitchy" person when she is sidelined, but Julie still has some similarities with Julia.

Both women are ambitious and iron-willed with somewhat strong husbands. Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) is an OSS officer who loves his wife and supports her while Eric Powell (Chris Messina) puts up with Julie's quest but he eventually walks out on her after he feels that her project is costing them their marriage (on a side note, Jane Lynch makes a great appearance as Julia's sister). The problem with the male characters is that they are completely regulated to supporting roles as opposed to co-headlining each segment. Not that Streep and Adams can't carry the film, but a male presence would've been interesting to experiment with. Nora Ephron normally work well with romance, the love is just no longer between the "husband and wife" but the love is instead translated toward the "cook and her food." And that is where I have to take note of Ephron's skill as a director, the camera is always showcasing the food making it as much of a character as the cooks themselves. The only other movie that somehow worked food into a meaningful part of the story would be Stanley Tucci's Big Night (1996). The film passes by on a slideshow or a montage several times as we go between the food and the book, the kitchen and work, and Julie and Julia. I for one could just live on rice.

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